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Signs duel yet again at Highland Park abortion protest

Her sign said “I Regret My Abortion.” For the past few years she’s been carrying it to pro-life protests, including the one that took place on Good Friday at the Highland Park office of Planned Parenthood.

Her sign said “I Regret My Abortion.” For the past few years she’s been carrying it to pro-life protests, including the one that took place on Good Friday at the Highland Park office of Planned Parenthood. Ann Marie Cosgrove had an abortion in 1985 when she was young, poor and felt she had nowhere to turn. To ease her pain, Cosgrove founded the state chapter of Silent No More, a pro-life group dedicated to consoling women who have aborted and encouraging women to make what she considers the only right choice, to keep the baby.

In her opinion, life begins at the moment of conception. Microscopic embryos, even those resulting from rape, should have the right to life and a relationship with God. When asked her opinion on the hundreds of thousands of unwanted children who are abused, neglected, poverty-stricken, and lacking housing and healthcare resources, she refers to her own difficult childhood and to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. “Suffering is not a bad thing” she says.

Kitty Merrill’s sign said “NOW for Pro-Choice.” For over three decades, she’s been carrying her sign at pro-choice events. What motivates her to keep fighting are the memories of what life was like for women prior to legalized abortion. In the early ’70s, Merrill worked in the hotel industry with women barely surviving on their meager tips. When two of her friends discovered that they were pregnant, neither could fathom bringing children into their poverty-stricken lives.

Fortunate to have survived
As abortion services were non-existent, both women performed self-abortions. One consumed veterinary drugs to induce labor; the other used knitting needles. They were fortunate to have survived. Countless women have died painful deaths from such procedures. Merrill continues to be haunted by a decades old image of a woman on the cover of Ms. Magazine who lay bloody and dead, the victim of a self-induced abortion.

Over the years, Merrill has done an extensive amount of scientific and religious research pertaining to abortion. Her opinion is that “embryos can’t be considered to have human properties.” She aligns with the Jewish belief that a fertilized egg is not viable until the fourth month of pregnancy. This is Merrill’s personal opinion alone and not one that she would impose on anyone. She stresses the importance of supporting women through whichever decision they choose.

The protest in St. Paul began more than three decades ago by Pro-Life Action Ministries. A decade ago, Planned Parenthood staged the first counter-demonstration and invited pro-choice volunteers, donors, and members of their large activist network to participate. Last Friday’s protest was relatively peaceful.

It wasn’t always this way. Sara Beth Miller, communications/media representative for Planned Parenthood, said that for approximately the first 20 years, pro-lifers holding graphic signs attempted to harass patients and physically block their access to the facility. The event has become more civilized during the last few years due to increased organization between Planned Parenthood, Pro-Life Ministries, and the Saint Paul Police Department.

Different moods during protest
During the protest, the mood in the cordoned off pro-life area was positively mournful. Cosgrove said that protesters view the event as a funeral for murdered children. Hymns were chanted and some carried signs proclaiming “Planned Parenthood Tells Lies.” Many carried rosaries or enormous crosses. All participants fell to their knees and joined in with prayers, which were recited over a loud PA system.

On the opposite side of the driveway, the pro-choice group was noticeably more celebratory, with the focus on defending and celebrating the hard-earned rights of women. The crowd cheered as vehicles honked in support. A multifaith pro-choice prayer service was held. Men and women joined together in a song containing the refrain “Amazing choice, to birth or not, it is my body holy, the live ones need love and care for respect for sovereignty.” Yet, even amidst the joy, there was sadness over the fact that almost 40 years after abortion was legalized, such demonstrations continue to be necessary. Shannon Drury, president of the National Organization for Women, said that “they are still here trying to take people’s rights away.” She admonished the pro-lifers for wasting energy protesting when they could be out rallying for better children’s services and “supporting people from the ground up.”

Part of Drury’s wish may have come true. This year, Planned Parenthood encouraged people to “Pledge a Protestor.” In approximately five hours, they raised over $23,000 — much-needed money to help offset major state funding cuts — which will be put toward their many services including adoption, counseling, exams, vaccines, education, and children’s services. In short, helping people from the ground up. 

At the end of the rainy day, Ann Marie Cosgrove and Kitty Merrill packed up their dog-earned signs and headed home to prepare for the next protest. There are a lot more to come. Women’s reproductive rights are sadly making headlines again due to the new health-care package, which restricts access to abortion. Yet another battle in the never-ending war of reproductive freedom.

Peg Ballentine is a Twin Cities freelance writer and a columnist with MN NOW Times.